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Film Making – Part 2

Has making your own film been a longstanding, unfulfilled dream? Assistant Director Tim A Rakrusam has some inside-the-industry gyaan for wannabe filmmakers.

Intro: I have been working in the film industry as an assistant director for the past 1 1/2 years – after dropping out of a professional degree course. I think I made the right decision, because I could never imagine myself doing anything but making films. The initial journey has not exactly been smooth. It has been like a sine curve. If sometimes there was 20 hours of work a day, sometimes I was sitting at home with nothing to do. This has made me a jack of all trades!

Assuming that the average JAM reader has an IQ level slightly higher than most people in the film industry, I will dispense my advice:

There are as many ways of getting started as there are reasons for entering films. Some enter this line for the sake of artistic expression, some for the money and glamour and a few do it because they are not good at anything else. All reasons are valid. There are no rights and wrongs here. There are no conventions, no necessary education, no examples to be followed.

Should I assist a Director?
It’s always better to know what you will be doing before you get started. The ground realities are radically different from the set ideas we have. Film sets are plagued with late comers, lazy people and uninvited onlookers. You get to know how different people are dealt with; who is important and useful, who is not. Above all, you go through the grind and learn a lot. You learn how to beat the time deadline and finish the work in the stipulated budget.
Patience is an important virtue you will acquire. But assisting won’t teach you the most important thing a director must know: what shots to take and how a frame must be arranged or composed. While working on the sets, you should be immune to all forms of insults that may come and be ready to do everything you are told to. Of course, you should know where to draw the line!!
However I personally believe assisting doesn’t lead you anywhere. Even though most directors started off as assistants, not all assistants become directors. If you decide to work with some director, make sure his films are the ones you admire; if you don’t respect the director or his films, there is no point in working with him.

What is the best way to start?
Learn the art of filmmaking and not the science. Many people get involved in the technical and monetary aspects and don’t concentrate on what is important. Technology keeps changing. Cameras and editing machines change every few years, but the art of editing, lighting and composing is self taught and evolves over a period of time.
It is very important to watch films of all kinds very carefully. Have no biases towards black and white, foreign or regional films. See where they cut shots, how long each scene takes, what dialogues were necessary, how the necessary impact was created.

Film was first a visual medium and then it got sound. In film, things must preferably be shown, not told. It’s very important to be visually strong. Try to develop other interests like reading, traveling and photography. An interest in art also helps a lot, with regards to what colours should be used and how a frame should be composed so as to make it look better.
The Internet is the best source of knowledge. There are sites on every aspect of filmmaking. Scripts of Hollywood films are freely available on the net. Make it a point to go through the scripts of good movies. Try to watch a film first and then revise it by reading the script and watching every scene individually. Such an exercise is the best way to teach yourself script writing.

The younger you start the better. If you really believe this is what you want to do – do it NOW. If you can’t manage college with work and really want a degree – go for correspondence.

The DV Filmmaker
A better way to start off, is to make your own films. If you can borrow or buy any kind of video camera, you can start right away. All you need is friends who are ready to play parts as actors. You can make short skits. Film them in different angles. Watch good movies and try to emulate their style of taking or try to go beyond what the directors have done.

Film School
This is another good way of getting initiated in the art and science of making films as at film school, you get a formal grounding in different aspects of film. You get initiated in film theory and get to make short films as a part of the curriculum. Hence you get to work with professional equipment in a professional environment and start looking at films in a different way. Apart from all this, people form life long teams here. Many film school graduates prefer to work with their batch mates. Students help each other. The alumni, who’s already established help guys who graduate from their school since there is a sense of brotherhood.

There are no fixed dos and don’ts; all roads can lead to Rome. Some make it, some don’t.
At the end of the day, it all depends on how much you enjoy your work.

Money: The top dogs get paid, the others have to manage with loose change. Payment is something that’s never on time here. Cheques keep bouncing, installments are small, most of the money is black and most producers pretend to be short on cash. But on the bright side, today there is enough work for you to make a living – doing ad films, TV serial episodes, music videos etc – until someday you can cobble together a backer for your own film.

How do I get work once I think I can direct?
Making contacts is KEY. It’s sad that talent alone doesn’t count, unless you are someone famous and talented. To get those small assignments, you need to make big contacts.
Another interesting way is to write a shoe string budget film, shoot it on DV and then show it around and try to find some rich guy who’ll fund your next production.

Here are some examples of common men who made it big:
Ram Gopal Verma: This video store owner started off with the hard hitting ‘Shiva’ which starred Nagarjuna. He studied films in his store, watching his video cassettes over and over again, improvising them and narrating his home cooked stories to his friends.

Madhur Bhandarkar: ‘Chandni Bar’ was a commercial and critical success. He assisted directors in the film industry for some time before writing his own scripts and showing them around to producers.

Nagesh Kukunoor: This chemical engineer from Atlanta, USA saved up his hard earned money and produced his own film, ‘Hyderabad Blues’ – although it was more like a student exercise, thanks to it’s affable characters and storyline, it was a runaway success.

Subhash Ghai: After graduating from the Film and TV Institute, Pune, Ghai acted in some films which flopped. For sometime, he was jobless. Without losing heart, he came back with his mega blockbusters one after the other.

For all the Kukunoors, Gopal Vermas and Ghais, there are many other Atlanta engineers, video store owners and FTII graduates who are still sitting at home and dreaming about making their first movie.

Every director has a different story to tell. And everyone will tell you one thing: There are no rules. You have to use your instinct and common sense to find your way about. You have to know which opportunity will land you where. Plan your career. Know your faults and strengths. And work on that!

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